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NYC Buildings Aren’t Ready For Next Sandy

Credit: David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

New York City must take urgent steps to protect New Yorkers and its buildings from the next extreme weather event, according to a report released by the Building Resiliency Task Force.

In the devastating aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn charged the task force with giving recommendations to improve the resiliency of city buildings and maximize preparedness for extreme weather conditions like high winds, high temperatures and flooding. Urban Green Council led the 200+ member task force.

Highlights of specific suggestions:

  • Create stronger buildings—require new and replacement doors and windows to be wind resistant; anchor homes to their foundations; design sidewalks to capture storm water.
  • Ensure reliable backup power—make it easier for buildings to use backup generators and solar energy; require buildings to keep stairwells and hallways lit during blackouts; add hookups for roll-up generators and boilers.
  • Provide essential safety—install a community water faucet for entire buildings during power outages; maintain habitable temperatures during blackouts by improving insulation; ensure windows open enough to both reduce overheating and guarantee child safety.
  • Implement better planning—create emergency plans; adopt a new city code for existing buildings; support “Good Samaritan” legislation that protects architects and engineers from liability for emergency volunteer work.

The report makes recommendations for four specific types of buildings: commercial, multifamily residential, homes and hospitals. Recommendations require a combination of upgrading existing codes, implementing new codes, employing retrofits, removing barriers and adopting voluntary practices at the building ownership level. The suggestions strike a balance between resiliency and cost.

“We have to be able to withstand and recover quickly from all hazards posed by climate change,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “That’s why Speaker Quinn and I asked Russell Unger to help us address this enormously important task and will now begin the process of putting it into action. The specific recommendations cover important ways to make every kind of building in the city safer from future storms.”

“Strengthening our City’s infrastructure today will save billions of dollars in the future and will save lives,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “The Task Force report provides the city with a clear direction on how to make our buildings more resilient and helps us protect our businesses and our homes. I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg and the members of the Task Force for all their work.”

“Superstorm Sandy was a serious wake-up call that cost billions of dollars in damages and repairs, and another extreme event is inevitable,” said Russell Unger, executive director of Urban Green Council. “The SIRR report stresses the importance of resilient buildings, and the task force report provides the city with clear direction on how to make that happen. We hope that Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and the leaders of the next administration use the task force’s recommendations to make sure New York is protected and ready.”

The unveiling comes on the heels of the City’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) report released the week of June 10, 2013, which provides broad weather preparedness recommendations in a number of areas, including policy, infrastructure, community safety and funding. The task force report zeroes in on building preparedness, giving specific ways to resist damage, protect occupants and allow residents to quickly return to and stay in their homes after extreme weather.

Over the past four months, the group of over 200 appointed high-profile experts including city officials, engineers, property managers, architects  and more, met 45 times to create, discuss and finalize 33 proposals. Due to New York City’s size and influence, the set of proposals can serve as a crucial resiliency blueprint for other cities.

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About The Author

Schwartz joined Group C Media in April 1989 as managing editor of Today's Facility Manager. In September 2012, she transitioned to a new role dedicated to developing online content for Business Facilities and Today's Facility Manager. Schwartz can be reached at [email protected]

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